Hasan Ali feels Pakistan are in the lead after Australia were restricted at the MCG – LSB

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The scorecard may not suggest much reason for optimism, but Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali has always tried to look on the brighter side. And on a dismal Boxing Day in Melbourne where Pakistan toiled hard for the reward of just three wickets in 66 overs despite incredible swing and several passages of play where the Australian batsmen looked shaky, 187 for 3 is not exactly the score Pakistan would have been hoping for. After winning the toss and fielding Australia under gray skies.

However, Hassan felt that Pakistan’s discipline and ability to keep Australia on a leash meant that it retained the upper hand. “We are a little ahead of them now,” he said in the post-match press conference. “Honestly, it was a good day as a bowling unit. We’re a bit unlucky that we didn’t get enough wickets, but the best thing is that we didn’t give them enough runs. We’re looking forward to tomorrow, restricting them as low as possible.”

Pakistan captain Shan Masood had effectively thrown down the gauntlet to Hassan and his fellow fast bowlers. After narrowing down the squad for the Test to XII the day before, his Pakistan side took the decision to cut lone specialist spinner Sajid Khan from the starting XI, thus launching an all-out attack for the second match in a row. Winning the toss and choosing to bowl was a sign that he wanted them to do something for him.

Hasan, who was left out of the first Test for the off-spin pair of Khurram Shehzad and Aamer Jamal, could argue he did just that. Being Pakistan’s first all-rounder, he brought the scoring rate down just as Australia’s opener started to slip a bit. The conducive overhead conditions saw him generate movement in the air, coupled with incredible seam movement, resulting in a threat from David Warner’s edges.

After lunch, Hassan – and Pakistan – turned up the tension significantly. With ominous clouds threatening to break in at any moment, Pakistan began to recover from a topsy-turvy final half-hour or so before lunch, tightening their lines and cutting back on the Australian run rate. Usman Khawaja had looked the most comfortable of the batsmen up to that point, but a slightly audacious shot against a moving ball from Hassan found second slip, and Pakistan scored twice in quick succession, bookending the lunch break by two goals.

“There are certain times when bowlers get a bit lost [we were before lunch]“Or the bowlers have different plans,” Hasan said. “But there’s always a chance to come back. After lunch, we had a little discussion, and we were particularly good in that period. We gave them about 20 runs in that session.”

This was the period in the game – and indeed the series – when Pakistan looked most confident. Khawaja’s wicket saw a long period of Pakistan bowling dominated by Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, blocking almost all scoring chances. The 63 balls they survived after Khawaja’s wicket saw just seven runs, with every Pakistani bowler coming to investigate and prod, offering little.

It is frustrating for them that they get so little in return as well. Arguably two of Australia’s most stubborn batsmen overcame that period, a long session after the weather broke, thus protecting themselves from the worst of the damage. Even Warner, who almost berated the Pakistani bowlers for being bullied outside their lines early in Perth, gave them credit for “bowling beautifully”.

“Credit to the way Pakistan played,” he said. “They throw unbelievable channels. I think that way [Mir] Hamza bowled the ball around the wicket and at the end, it was almost as if he was playing with a rooster ball. He actually used his skills very well. Have the boys play and put the ball in the right area. I think going into tomorrow, we’re in a pretty good position. We will have to bat well and try to prepare for the bowlers.

“If you’re not bowling fast in Australia, you’ve got to have some basic skills to get to that line and long space to make something happen. I think with those guys, they’ve actually been pretty good. I think they’ve been fantastic.” They came back in the last Test match after lunch, bowling great line and length. With Shaheen Shah Afridi doing his job – he bowled well today and didn’t have much luck [but] “When he’s in place, I think the rest of the guys follow him – I think they’re fine.”

There was, of course, the usual “what ifs.” Warner was not supposed to be in a position to achieve a 90-run opening stand, because when he was on second, Afridi drew an outside edge that floated to Abdullah Shafiq at first slip. There was no mitigating factor for this decline; He was not blind and no one distracted him. But as happened so often in Australia – and so often against Warner – Pakistan gave him the chance, denying themselves the chance to make an early breakthrough.

“If we had caught the ball earlier, the situation might have been different,” Hassan said sadly, “but that’s part of the game – you drop some ball and catch another.” However, Pakistan did not let it define their day, and Hassan’s stance suggests they will refuse to let an inability to take the wicket they felt they deserved define this Test as well.

Daniel Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in Pakistan. @danny61000

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